Category Archives: Advocacy

Backgrounder No. 2: South Tyrol Regional Rail Restored for $4 Million/Mile

Photo: A DMU trainset on the Val Venosta line.

Link to full article: http://www.calrailnews.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/TRACBackgrounderTwo-ValVenostaCheep.pdf

Summary of TRAC Backgrounder No. 2

Californians need to wake up, because at the same time our state seems unable to build new local rail or high speed tracks for less than $70 million a mile, Europeans are showing how to do it for as little as $4 million a mile.

In Italy’s Val Venosta, a regional branch line that had grown weeds for 15 years is now an engine for tourism and eco-friendly development.

…The line was originally meant to connect on its west end to Switzerland and Austria, but the war and division of Southern Tyrol from Austria put that idea on ice.

…Service was taken over in 1918 by the Italian State Railways (Ferrovie dello Statto) but Rome didn’t seem to have much use for the line.

…Discontent by locals and tourists with the increase in road traffic in the Val Venosta led to many voices calling for a reopening of the rail service, including a threated tax strike.

In 1999 the line was turned over to the South Tyrol regional government, which rebuilt it from 2000 to 2004 under the leadership of the STA Transportstrukturen Ltd., a publicly-owned enterprise.

…The new infrastructure uses Y-shaped metal crossties that are more stable than concrete ties for light trains, require less capital cost and are cheaper to maintain.   Also, the fact the old rails never had been removed in the decade and a half of abandonment preserved the right-of-way from alternate uses such as highways, and the line never completely disappeared from public consciousness.

Link to full article: http://www.calrailnews.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/TRACBackgrounderTwo-ValVenostaCheep.pdf

www.ferroviavalvenosta.it

A 110 mph Upgrade Example for San Joaquins

See links below to an article and website about proposed upgrades to existing Chicago-Detroit Amtrak corridor service on existing tracks, to 110 mph standards and other improvements, all for less than $3 billion.

As shown by the Chicago-Detroit corridor example, with the addition of a Bakersfield-Los Angeles route via Tejon Pass–34 miles shorter than via Tehachapi–conventional upgraded San Joaquins could travel from Sacramento or the Bay Area to Los Angeles Union Station in ~4 hours, 45 minutes versus ~3 hours for 220 mph non-stop express high speed rail, or 3 hours, 30 minutes+/- for a high speed “all stops local.”

But CAHSRA wants Calfornia taxpayers to spend another $50 to $100 billion on top of the $10-$12 billion+/-  a combined San Joaquin upgrade/Tejon route would cost to save a maximum of 60-90 minutes per trip. While 3.0-3.5 hour travel times are needed to effectively compete with air travel between Sacramento/Bay Area and Southern California, they are not needed to compete with most intercity trips, which are made by automobile.

http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2014/10/29/high-speed-rail-boost-roundtrips-detroit-chicago/18088995/

http://www.greatlakesrail.org/

CHSRA Responds Directly to TRAC; Our Response

TRAC’s opinion piece on September 28th (http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/article2614730.html) in the Sacramento Bee apparently annoyed the denizens of the California High Speed Rail Authority, leading to a response by CEO Jeff Morales (http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/article2623053.html), plus a followup, much more detailed letter directly to TRAC on October 22 (http://www.calrailnews.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Response-to-TRAC-10.21.14.pdf).

The text of our response to Morales’ Bee op-ed and followup letter is presented below.

Mr. Morales:
You PR people chose to reiterate their talking points rather than respond to our arguments, in composing your October 21 letter responding to our SacBee OpEd. Key examples:
You write “We remain confident that an operating segment can be delivered with existing funds and future Cap and Trade proceeds, at which point a private entity would pay for the rights to operate the system (and receive the revenue it generates), thus allowing for completion of the full statewide system.” Note the lack of an answer for how CHSRA will fill the $26 billion shortfall in the budget for its Initial Operating Segment, which it admits needs to be complete before any private investment is possible. We all know Cap and Trade won’t go that far.
Your people either don’t understand or refuse to accept the judicial rulings. As we wrote, both the trial court and the Court of Appeal found deficiencies in CHSRA’s compliance with Proposition 1A. The Court of Appeal, however, ruled there was no remedy for the failure to comply, at this time. The Supreme Court chose to not review that decision. In no way did it “reaffirm compliance.”
Your comments about “what the Congress and President appropriated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” betray either an intentional misstatement of the terms of the legislation, or ignorance of them. Several Midwestern states are upgrading Amtrak service to 110 mph under that program, on “tracks owned by private freight operators.”
You write “Currently, there is no passenger rail link between Bakersfield and the Los Angeles Basin…” If CHSRA makes good on its intention to proceed with Palmdale-Burbank, there won’t be one for a very long time. While it wasn’t mentioned in the OpEd due to space considerations, TRAC has long considered the missing rail link as its top state priority.
You write “We have consulted extensively with experienced foreign governments and high-speed rail operators to improve and refine our plans.” This is a far cry from the open bidding process we recommend, where the successful bidder puts capital at risk, rather than mere advice.
Finally, you offer a very skewed reading of Proposition 1A. CHSRA is reverent about complying with legislative intent (except that of having an operating system by 2020), even though these are not mandatory provisions. Yet it brazenly flouts the mandatory requirements–the part of the bill it didn’t write–and then begs the Supreme Court for a Get out of Jail Free card when caught.
If you wonder how CHSRA managed to alienate rail advocates that would otherwise be its natural supporters, look no further than these points.

CHSRA CEO Morales Misses Point of TRAC Op-Ed

Instead of responding substantively to my piece in the Sacramento Bee on Monday, September 29th, California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) CEO Jeff Morales merely repeated his agency’s PR schtick. His article read like something written by CHSRA’s “Office of Communications” e.g., their PR flacks.

Reading between the lines, however, Mr. Morales’ article spoke volumes: by claiming “interest” in the HSR project by private companies and investors, he tacitly admitted that CHSRA actually has no commitments for private capital.

After some more verbal gesticulating including a specious claim that American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds can’t be moved to upgrading existing lines (a political choice by the Obama Administation, not a legal one), Morales failed to explain where CHSRA will get the $26 billion of public funds his plan calls for. This means that private investment is an utter pipe dream.

In short, if the courts are kind to CHSRA, they may manage to blow through $6 billion improving railroad service through downtown Fresno. After that, though, the current manifestation of HSR in California is dead in the water. CHSRA simply doesn’t have the money to build much more of its insanely expensive infrastructure, and has no idea where they will get any more money, public or private.

Even European Trains Could Be Better: Passenger Manifestos

Despite Europe being literally decades ahead of the United States regarding rail passenger service, major improvements are still needed. For example, better cross-border connections.

Here are links to three recent passenger manifestos demanding better rail passenger service from European politicians:

European Passengers’ Federation Manifesto

Gaps In The European Long Distance Rail Network 2014 (presentation)

10 Theses For Better Rail Networks